COPE, Sir William (1577-1637), of Hardwick, nr. Banbury, Oxon.; later of Hanwell, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1625 - 23 June 1625

Family and Education

b. c.1577, 1st s. of Sir Anthony Cope* of Hanwell and Frances, da. of Rowland Lytton of Knebworth, Herts.1 educ. Queen’s. Oxf. 1594, aged 17; L. Inn 1614.2 m. 8 Apr. 1602, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir George Chaworth of Wiverton, Notts., 2s. 3da.3 kntd. 11 May 1603;4 suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 7 July 1614.5 d. 2 Aug. 1637.6

Offices Held

J.p. Oxon. by 1614-25, 1630-6,7 sheriff 1619-20;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1617-25,9 subsidy, Oxon. 1621-2, 1624,10 sewers, Berks. and Oxon. 1634.11

Master of the armoury 1615-28.12

Member, Irish Co. by 1618.13


Until Cope succeeded to the Hanwell estate in 1614 he lived at Hardwick, a mile north of Banbury, for which borough he was first returned during his father’s third shrievalty.14 He left no trace on the parliamentary records until the third session, when he was named to two committees, one for the articles of Union with Scotland (29 Nov. 1606) and the other for a tanners’ bill (9 December).15 His appointments numbered five in the fourth session, and included a bill committee against ecclesiastical pluralism (19 Feb. 1610), to which both his father and uncle, Sir Walter Cope, were also named.16 He delivered his maiden speech on 19 Feb., when he laid down the priorities in considering supply: ‘first, to consider of the necessity of the subject and [then] of the prince’.17 On 23 Apr. he reminded the House that the Book of Common Prayer had not been confirmed by Parliament.18 During the debate on grievances on 11 May, Cope seconded the motion of Sir William Twysden that the Speaker should explain whether a message supposedly sent by the king had come directly from James or from ‘some second person’.19 On 13 June he responded to a proposal from the City Member Sir Thomas Lowe of immediate and generous supply, without prior satisfaction of grievances, by suggesting that the king’s needs might be temporarily met by a loan from Lowe’s constituents; a suggestion which was ‘much applauded’.20 Two days later he was teller for the bill to prevent secret outlawries, but the measure was rejected.21

Re-elected for Banbury in 1614, Cope was named to only one committee in the Addled Parliament, for a bill against false bail (16 April).22 On 5 May, during a debate on supply, he moved for a ‘message to satisfy the king’, despite his father’s plea to delay the vote.23 On the following day, when a bill for sheriffs’ accounts was being discussed, he moved to add a proviso limiting shrieval liability to five years, citing the case of his deceased father-in-law who had been sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 1586 and whose lands were still under threat.24 It was also in his family’s interest that he spoke up for the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry*, who was charged with unduly influencing the election of Sir Walter Cope and Sir Henry Wallop* at Stockbridge: on 10 May he maintained Parry’s right to be heard in his own defence and on the following day, after both Parry and his clients had been unseated, he successfully moved that the proceedings in the case should be recorded and that the House should mediate on Parry’s behalf with the king.25 On the same day he opposed a proposal that a bill to restrict the export of ordnance should extend to all English and Irish iron.26 On 16 May he moved for a conference with the Lords on impositions, and four days later he again spoke on trade, saying that ‘the reason of the not venting now of cloths [was] because the clothiers have raised the prices of their cloths by combination with the Merchant Adventurers’.27 He intervened most forcefully in the debate of 30 May on Bishop Neile’s alleged attack on the Commons, casting doubts on the bishop’s Protestant credentials and observing that ‘popish-affected persons hindered the calling of the Parliament; and have, ever sithence, thrown in bones amongst us, and kept us in broils’.28 On 6 June he again called for ‘the king’s speedy supply’, adding that money should be voted, not to avoid a sudden dissolution, ‘but to procure it to be a winter Parliament’; however his proposal for two committees to consider impositions and supply were ignored and the session was dissolved the following day.29

Cope’s father and uncle died within days of each other in July 1614. The former left Cope an estate encumbered with debts of £20,000, while the latter bequeathed him several properties, including a lease of the Custom House Quay in London, in exchange for sharing responsibility for debts amounting to some £27,000 with his son-in-law Sir Henry Rich*.30 As Cope had by this time accumulated debts of his own worth over £10,000 through the purchase of lands, mainly in Oxfordshire, he was rapidly plunged into financial crisis.31 Indeed, as he was now unable to repay the money he had borrowed to fund several of his property transactions, he was soon embroiled in litigation that continued for many years after his death.32 Perhaps in an attempt to generate funds without risk, in 1614 Cope joined a syndicate led by lord treasurer Suffolk and the London alderman William Cockayne which sold licences to export wool.33 It may have been with Suffolk’s assistance that the following year he was appointed master of the armoury for life.34

Chamberlain described Cope as a man with ‘an extraordinary confidence of his own wit and dexterity’, and he was certainly inventive when it came to schemes to mend his fortunes.35 In 1616 he joined with Calcot Chambre* in a suit for permission to export pipe-staves from Chambre’s Irish estate.36 He also purchased a part-share in the farm of seacoal from Sir William Heyricke*.37 A year later he put forward a proposal for ‘the setting up of clothing and manufactures’ in Ireland,38 and in 1618 he invested in the Irish Company.39 In 1616 he felt assured enough to consider purchasing a barony, but, according to Chamberlain, held off so long in concluding terms with Secretary Winwood that he lost his opportunity.40

In the autumn of 1620 Cope produced sworn testimony that he could not answer a summons to appear in Star Chamber, being ‘not able to stir nor hold up his head by reason of some strain [he] had caught in riding down from London’.41 However, he had evidently recovered by the time Parliament met again, in 1621, when he again represented Banbury. On the first day of business, 5 Feb., he professed his zeal to further the king’s affairs, but declared that he wished that Parliament had met ‘twelve month sithence’, as there was now much to be done. As well as the need to find money to help pay for the recovery of Bohemia there was now also the threat to the Palatinate to consider, not to mention ‘the king’s other wants’.42 He went on to second Secretary Calvert’s request for supply, calling for a committee of the whole House to consider both the state of Christendom and England. A keen supporter of war, he urged that England become ‘the greatest terror that may be, to the adversary’. Yet, despite his role as master of the armoury, he seems to have taken no interest in a bill ‘to make the arms of the kingdom more serviceable in times to come’, and was not named to the committee.43 He moved for absentees to be summoned on 6 Feb., and when it was suggested three days later that some Members had not been properly sworn in, he recommended that their names should be ‘privately’ reported so that the oaths could be administered to them.44 He favoured a petition for free speech rather than a bill, and was appointed to help draft it (12 February).45 Perhaps in defence of his own activities as a licencee, Cope weighed in to the wool trade debate on 14 Feb., when he repeated a point that he had made in 1614: that the Merchant Adventurers, rather than Cockayne, were responsible for the recent recession.46 The following day he supported calls for Thomas Sheppard* to be censured for his unseemly criticism of the Sabbath bill, complaining that Sheppard ‘took occasion from puritans who keep the Sabbath to rail against this bill’.47 With the shadows of a debtors’ prison closing round him, he expressed natural concern on 14 Feb. about conditions in the Fleet and the extortionate fees demanded by its warden.48 The House was kept informed of Cope’s tribulations at law; on 14 Feb. he was granted a stay of action in one suit, while on 23 Apr. he told a committee of his unfortunate experiences in Chancery.49 Four days later he waived privilege in a suit brought by the widow of Sir George Coppyn† to recover £9,000 due for lands bought from her husband.50 On the same day (27 Apr.) he moved for a bill against corruption in the law courts, though he assured the House that he had never given a bribe, nor knew ‘particularly’ of any that had, and he was appointed to the drafting committee.51 On 11 May he was added to the committee to consider an explanatory bill against recusancy.52 After the summer recess he objected (27 Nov.) that since the payment of the last subsidy was incomplete no money could be raised ‘in a Parliament course’ till the following June at the earliest.53 The Star Chamber summons was renewed after the Parliament, but Cope now claimed to be crippled by gout.54

In 1624 Cope was elected knight of the shire for Oxfordshire after a contest with Sir William Pope*.55 On 23 Feb. he was one of the supporters of the motion, firmly brushed aside by Sir Edward Coke, that the committee for privileges should be thrown open to all comers.56 On 24 Feb. he recommended the committee for trade to ‘take consideration of the necessities of poor tradesmen, especially belonging to clothing’, and explained that he knew ‘how in some places some able bodies in a month could get no work, and that many had no other food both about London and elsewhere than parched pease and water’.57 Three days later he moved in the committee for grievances ‘against the patent of concealed tithes’.58 On 20 Mar. he spoke in favour of a bill to make the Thames navigable to Oxford, and was named to the committee.59 The subjects of his other appointments included scandalous and unworthy ministers (22 Mar.); the inquiry into abuses in the Fleet (20 Apr.); the examination of the recusancy presentments (27 Apr.), and a bill to make married women liable to fines for recusancy (1 May).60 On 16 Apr. he spoke in grand committee against the Arminian Bishop Harsnett, who had been accused of inhibiting preaching.61 His attendance was recorded at three meetings of the committee for a private bill concerning Goathland manor in the duchy of Cornwall after he was added to its membership on 20 April.62 On 29 Apr. he failed to persuade the House to extend the penalties of a bankruptcy bill to ‘gentlemen and knights’.63 The following day he was named to consider a bill for the London Feltmakers Company, for which he attended two of five meetings of the committee.64 The debts of his late uncle, Sir Walter Cope, continued to prove burdensome, as he was sued by the relatives of two overseers of his uncle’s will, Sir Thomas Watson* and Sir George Coppyn. Early in May Cope obtained privilege in a suit brought by Pope, Watson’s son-in-law, in Common Pleas.65

Just over a month after the prorogation Cope was arrested at the suit of Lady Coppyn for a debt of £3,000, ‘and for seeking to escape from the sheriff who had used him kindly, upon his word and promise to be true prisoner’, and was imprisoned in Oxford castle.66 After transfer to the Fleet he was temporarily released in August 1624 to entertain the king at Hanwell. He was removed from the commission of the peace, but was still at liberty ‘by habeas corpus’ when Charles I summoned his first Parliament in 1625.67 Cope was re-elected for Banbury, but three days into the session, on 21 June, John Saunders* tendered a petition on behalf of Lady Coppyn and her son, which on Cope’s own motion was referred to the committee for privileges.68 A petition from Cope was read and immediately rejected the following day.69 Sir Robert Hitcham* reported from the committee on 23 June that Cope’s arrest after the previous Parliament had been no infringement of privilege, and that being in execution before the next writ of summons he had not been eligible for election.70 The House concurred, and Cope did not sit again.71

In 1626 a private bill was introduced for the sale of an Oxfordshire manor for payment of Cope’s debts and the raising of portions for his younger children; but it was rejected on its second reading.72 On 7 June 1627 the Privy Council ordered Cope to be arrested as a Forced Loan refuser, and in the following year he surrendered his office.73 In 1629 he made over his estates for the payment of his debts, naming Viscount Saye and Sele, and his cousins Sir Cope Doyley and Richard Knightley* as trustees.74 He was restored to the commission of the peace in 1630. Despite entertaining the king and queen at Hanwell in August 1636, he followed Lord Saye in opposing Ship Money.75 Having drafted his will on 10 May 1637, he died on 2 Aug. following and was buried at Hanwell.76 Among friends to whom he left £20 each were the puritan ministers John Dod, Robert Cleaver and Robert Harris.77 His eldest son survived him little more than a year, but two of his grandsons sat for Banbury and Oxfordshire in six parliaments between 1660 and 1699.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Baker, Northants. i. 748.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
  • 3. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 139.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 5. C142/392/99.
  • 6. C142/570/148.
  • 7. C66/1988; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 13; C193/13/1; C231/5, f. 35.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 109.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 285; 181/3, f. 137v.
  • 10. C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 11. C181/4, f. 179.
  • 12. C66/2029; AO3/108/3; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 276; 1628-9, p. 337.
  • 13. CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 221.
  • 14. VCH Oxon. x. 46.
  • 15. CJ, i. 326b, 329a.
  • 16. Ibid. 396b.
  • 17. Ibid. 397a.
  • 18. Ibid. 420b.
  • 19. Ibid. 427b.
  • 20. Ibid. 438a; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 56.
  • 21. CJ, i. 439b.
  • 22. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 91.
  • 23. Ibid. 154.
  • 24. Ibid. 164, 168.
  • 25. Ibid. 193, 204, 209.
  • 26. Ibid. 201, 207.
  • 27. Ibid. 260, 264, 300.
  • 28. Ibid. 380, 384, 387.
  • 29. Ibid. 430.
  • 30. PROB 11/127, f. 174v-175; 11/145, f. 529; Chamberlain Letters, i. 554, 560-1.
  • 31. Oxon. RO, BOR/2/XLI/i/1,2; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 249, VCH Oxon. vi. 317; vii. 125.
  • 32. J.M. French, Milton in Chancery, 129-32, 140, 190-1, 365; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 493.
  • 33. C66/2026.
  • 34. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 276.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters, i. 575-6.
  • 36. APC, 1615-16, p. 617.
  • 37. Bodl. Eng. Hist. C.479, ff. 207-8.
  • 38. APC, 1616-17, p. 139.
  • 39. CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 221.
  • 40. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 10, 22, 25.
  • 41. STAC 8/137/7.
  • 42. CJ, i. 509a.
  • 43. Ibid. 543a.
  • 44. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 15; CJ, i. 514b.
  • 45. CJ, i. 518a.
  • 46. Ibid. 520a; A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project, 396.
  • 47. CJ, i. 522a; Nicholas, i. 45.
  • 48. Nicholas, i. 42.
  • 49. Ibid. i. 302-3.
  • 50. Ibid. i. 306; CJ, i. 595a.
  • 51. CJ, i. 595a.
  • 52. Ibid. 617a.
  • 53. Ibid. 649b.
  • 54. STAC 8/137/7.
  • 55. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 543.
  • 56. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 8.
  • 57. CJ, i. 672b, 717a; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 16.
  • 58. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 40.
  • 59. CJ, i. 744a.
  • 60. Ibid. 692a, 696a, 746a, 771b.
  • 61. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 36.
  • 62. C.R. Kyle ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 198.
  • 63. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 83v.
  • 64. Kyle, 203.
  • 65. CJ, i. 700b; C54/2414/10.
  • 66. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 571-2.
  • 67. Ibid. ii. 574; J. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, iv. 1001; Procs. 1625, p. 210.
  • 68. Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 207, 209, 212.
  • 69. Ibid. 215, 218, 222-3.
  • 70. Ibid. 227, 233, 234; Queen’s Coll. Oxf. ms 449.
  • 71. Procs. 1625, p. 516; HMC Lords, n.s. xi. 179, 182.
  • 72. CJ, i. 821b, 823a.
  • 73. APC, 1627, p. 330; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 233.
  • 74. Bodl. North c.30, no. 76.
  • 75. Hants Field Club Pprs. xviii. 15; CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 210.
  • 76. C142/570/148; A. Beesley, Banbury, 261.
  • 77. PROB 11/175, ff. 99v-100.